By Jody DiPerna
Pittsburgh Current Lit Writer
Are we all suffering from massacre fatigue? Is there a danger of becoming, not indifferent to, but overwhelmed by gun violence in America? If you google, ‘how many days since the last mass shooting,’ multiple sites and feeds pop up on the first page. According to the Vox mass shooting tracker, there have been 2,166 mass shootings in America since Sandy Hook, including, of course, the horrific, heartbreaking murders at Tree of Life on October 27, 2018.
That there is a need for such sites indicates just how broken we are.
But Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America remains focused, dedicated and undaunted in her belief that we are slowly coming to our senses. She believes that the battle for common-sense gun regulation can be won.
“I get asked that question a lot — Are you numb? Are we numb?” Watts told the Current via telephone. “I can’t imagine that every single parent in this country isn’t worried in the morning when they send their kids off to school.”
“People say, ‘nothing ever happened after Sandy Hook, so nothing ever will.’ That’s not true. We had to build a political movement that could go toe to toe with the gun lobby. That didn’t exist.”
Even David probably trained before he took down Goliath.
Watts says that they are now larger than the NRA and points to victories on local and state levels, in particular. Because of the hard work of advocacy groups like CeaseFire Pennsylvania and Watts’ Moms Demand Action, Pennsylvania’s domestic abuser gun law went into effect in April, joining 27 other states with similar laws on the books. The new law requires subjects of protection from abuse orders to hand their weapons over to police, a gun dealer or a lawyer. This is the first antiviolence law relating specifically to guns in the Commonwealth in a decade.
Shannon Watts will speak about gun violence, grassroots advocacy, and her new book, ‘Fight Like a Mother’ (Harper Collins) at Chatham University at 7:30 p.m. on August 6th. There will be a private reception hosted by Riverstone Bookstore at 6:30 p.m.
Also in April, Pittsburgh City Council passed three gun control bills which Mayor Bill Peduto signed. The measures ban the use of some assault weapons and most uses of armor-piercing ammunition and high-capacity magazines.
Watts founded Moms Demand Action the day after Sandy Hook, in December, 2012. She wanted to do something. She thought she’d join a group, that there must be a group like Mothers Against Drunk Driving already out there. There wasn’t. So she started one, and she built it just like Candy Lightner did when starting MADD.
Moms Demand Action grew fast. In 2013 it joined with Mayors Against Illegal Guns to form Everytown for Gun Safety, but Moms remains the on-the-ground, grassroots arm of the organization.
Everytown endorsed Pa Senator Pat Toomey in his 2016 re-election, as did Gabby Giffords’ PAC (Americans for Responsible Solutions), largely based on the fact that Toomey has shown a willingness to even talk about gun regulations, unlike many in the GOP.
But his voting record is mixed. He voted against the Murphy Background Check Expansion and the Feinstein Terror Gap Act, both sponsored by Democrats. However, he worked with West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin (D) on a bill to expand background checks to include gun shows and Internet sales. That bill received a majority of votes, but not enough to pass (54-46.)
Still, says Watts, “He took a very brave stand by being a co-sponsor of the Manchin-Toomey bill after Sandy Hook. We said we would support him for that.”
More recently, Toomey introduced the NICS Denial Notification Act along with Chris Coons of Delaware in 2018. According to Watts, this one has a good chance of passing if it is ever allowed to come to a vote in the Senate.
Finding common ground is vital in the fight to restore the responsibilities that go with gun rights. Just as vital to Watts is the election of gun-sense female candidates, at every level from school boards to Congress.
In March, Movita Johnson-Harrell, a former Moms Demand Action volunteer, was elected to the Pennsylvania state legislature from the 190th district. Johnson-Harrell’s son Charles was shot and killed in 2011. In June, she told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “I ran because we need the bodies to stop dropping in every city across the nation.”
Another Moms volunteer, Lucy McBath, was elected to Congress in 2018; she won in the 6th District of Georgia, a longtime Republican stronghold. She currently sits in Newt Gingrich’s old seat.
“Part of how you speed up your effort to change the laws in this country is not only to advocate, but it’s also to legislate,” Watts says.
“A special interest has been able to accumulate wealth and power without opposition. And they have run roughshod over our congress and our lawmakers. It’s our job to release their stranglehold, finger by finger.”